TALENT: 'Workers' Valle Sets 'Operation Baby'

Buzzed-up abduction drama marks big step-up in scale for helmer

GUADALAJARA – Mexico-based Salvadorean director Jose Luis Valle, whose “Workers” is regarded as one of the standout Mexico debuts of 2013, has set his third fiction feature, “Operation Baby,” which marks a big step-up in scale, and complete change of direction.

An “epic, entertaining film for mass audiences,” in Valle’s words, “Operation Baby” proved to be one of the most buzzed-up projects at Guadalajara’s 10th Ibero-American Co-Production Meeting, where Vallw won one of itstop prizes Tuesday.

In development, and written by Valle, “Operation Baby” is “inspired by true events converted into a film story” turning on what Valle describes as the biggest manhunt in the history of the Americas, unleashed after a Salvadorian guerrilla commando abducted a son of the Shah of Iran, demanding a $150 million ransom. Coordinated by secret intelligence services, measures included a U.S. blockade of El Salvador.

“The fundamental ingredient of the film – and it took me years to realize this – is its tone, its vision, how it approaches its subject,” Valle said.

“’Operation Baby’ is a film about the war in El Salvador, but as I saw it as a small child. It seemed immensely, radically absurd,” said Valle, whose parents served in the Salvadorean armed resistance.

“It’s a very strange episode: Field hands trained to penetrate the international jet set, as the traditional sources of funding for armed movements in Latin American were cut off.

“This isn’t a laugh-out loud comedy, it doesn’t denounce anything, nor support any side: It’s about human beings and does have a lightly comic, absurdist tone not that distant from ‘Workers.’ I’m introducing chance and humor into history, which seems full of solemnitude, “ Valle added.

Valle, who is also producing, aims to shoot between Mexico and Panama where the kidnapped son of the Shah was held captive.

“Panama offers rebates for production and we’d also like to strengthen alliances between Ibero-American countries,” Valle said.

With script consultancy by Vicente Lenero, whose credits include “The Crime of Father Amaro,” “Baby” was developed at Spain’s Fundacion Carolina Ibero-American Project Development Course and Madrid’s Casa America and this year’s Berlinale Residency. It was a finalist in Spain’s 7th Julio Alejandro Ibero-American Script Contest.

Valle also won a Gabriel Figueroa Film Fund development award at last November’s 2nd Los Cabos Festival.

A low-budget gem about two mercilessly-exploited employees, “Workers” pulled off a rare double last year, scooping best feature at October’s Morelia Fest and best Mexican feature at 2013’s Guadalajara Festival, the country’s two biggest film events.

Shot in seven days and with a four-man crew, “Las busquedas,” Valle’s second fiction-feature, a redemption love tale, premiered at 2013’s Riviera Maya Festival.

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